Bullpen competition heating up

Phillies pitcher Phillippe Aumont. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

And then there were 16.

Before the clubhouse opened at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning the Phillies sent two of the organization’s most promising bullpens arms to minor league camp, and thus, out of the running for major league bullpen jobs.

Lefthander Jake Diekman and right-hander Justin De Fratus were optioned to Triple-A.

Diekman and De Fratus have two of the bigger arms in camp and figure to find their way back to the big leagues at some point in 2013. But both struggled with command at times this spring.

“I just have to go down there and learn to pitch backwards, use my secondary pitches more,” a disappointed Diekman said after clearing out his locker. “I feel like I’m really close. It’s just consistency with m secondary pitches and using them back in the count, knowing where to put it.”

Lefthander Cesar Jimenez, also a reliever, and infielder Josh Fields were also sent to minor league camp.

With Sunday’s roster shuffle, 16 pitches remain in camp. Nine of those pitchers a roster locks: starters Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan; relievers Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Chad Durbin and Antonio Bastardo.

Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez are veteran big league starters, and thus, not outfitted for a bullpen role. The Phils are hoping to have both in Triple-A Lehigh Valley as potential “sixth starter” candidates should an injury arise on the big league staff.

That leaves five arms for three spots in the bullpen: righthanders Phillippe Aumont, Mike Stutes and Zach Miner; lefthanders Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes.

If I were a betting man, I’d have money on Valdes, who threw three shutout innings for the second time in as many outings on Saturday. He is a versatile arm who can provide much-needed length out of the ‘pen.

Horst was also very effective last year and hasn’t disappointed this spring. My guess – just one man’s opinion – is that Stutes and Aumont are competing for the final spot.

Stutes has more major league experience on his side, as well as the ability to pitch more than one inning. Aumont has the bigger arm and, thus, potential to work later innings should Adams or Papelbon need a day of rest.

One thing to keep in mind: whoever the team takes to Atlanta on April 1 (on the Opening Day roster) doesn't mean it's who they'll be counting on for the duration of the regular season.

Stutes, for example, wasn't on the Opening Day roster in 2011 but was on the major league roster later in April and stuck on it for the remainder of the season.